An elevated railway (also known as an El rail, El train or simply an El for short, and, in Europe, as an overhead railway) is a rapid transit railway with the tracks above street level on a viaduct or other elevated structure (usually constructed of steel, concrete, or brick). The railway may be standard gauge, narrow gauge, light rail, monorail, or a suspension railway. Elevated railways are usually used in urban areas where there would otherwise be a large number of level crossings. Most of the time, the tracks of elevated railways that run on steel viaducts can be seen from street level.
The earliest elevated railway was the London and Greenwich Railway on a brick viaduct of 878 arches, built between 1836 and 1838. The first 2.5 miles (4.0 km) of the London and Blackwall Railway (1840) was also on a viaduct. During the 1840s there were other schemes for elevated railways in London that did not come to fruition.
From the late 1860s onward elevated railways became popular in US cities. The New York West Side and Yonkers Patent Railway operated with cable cars from 1868 to 1870, thereafter locomotive-hauled. This was followed by the Manhattan Railway in 1875, the South Side Elevated Railroad, Chicago (1892–), and the elevated lines of the Boston Elevated Railway (1901–). The Chicago transit system itself is known as "L", short for "elevated". The Berlin Stadtbahn (1882) and the Vienna Stadtbahn (1898) are also mainly elevated.
The first electric elevated railway was the Liverpool Overhead Railway, which operated through Liverpool docks from 1893 until 1956.
Most monorails are elevated railways, such as the Disneyland Monorail System (1959), the Tokyo Monorail (1964), the Sydney Monorail (1988–2013), the KL Monorail, the Las Vegas Monorail, and the São Paulo Monorail. Many maglev railways are also elevated.
During the 1890s there was some interest in suspension railways, particularly in Germany, with the Schwebebahn Dresden, (1891–) and the Wuppertal Schwebebahn (1901). H-Bahn suspension railways were built in Dortmund and Düsseldorf airport, 1975. The Memphis Suspension Railway opened in 1982.
Suspension railways are usually monorail.
People mover or automated people mover (APM) is a type of driverless grade-separated, mass-transit system. The term is generally used only to describe systems that serve as loops or feeder systems, but is sometimes applied to considerably more complex automated systems. Similar to monorails, Bombardier Innovia APM technology uses only one rail to guide the vehicle along the guideway. APMs are common at airports and effective at helping passengers quickly reach their gates. Several elevated APM systems at airports including the PHX Sky Train at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport; AeroTrain at Kuala Lumpur International Airport; and the Tracked Shuttle System at London Gatwick Airport, United Kingdom.